Back pain can be extremely debilitating and if you suffer from it daily, any relief is greatly welcomed. While back pain is complex, there is no doubt that exercise is one of the best preventatives and treatments for it.
Pilates is low impact, low intensity and originally designed as a rehabilitation method for soldiers during the war. It targets muscles that support your back, strengthensn your core and helps to realign your posture. It is no wonder that more and more people are turning to Pilates to alleviate their symptoms.
Here are some of the contributing factors to back pain:
- Bad office desk practices
- Being overweight
- Poor posture
- Lack of body awareness, especially postural awareness
- Glutes that don’t switch on or work correctly
- Abdominals that don’t activate correctly
- Tight hamstrings and hip flexors
- Lack of exercise (or the right type of exercise)
- Existing sporting injuries
- Congenital back issues
Can you relate to any of the above? If so, Pilates could be right up your alley!
In my experience with clients past and present, Pilates has been able to greatly reduce their level of pain and improve their quality of life. I have summarised my views on why that is, and called it The Pilates Method for fixing back pain.
It consists of the following:
1. Pilates teaches body awareness and focuses on correct technique
First and foremost, Pilates teaches you the art of body awareness! Meaning, you will be taught how, and when to activate the correct muscle groups when doing a certain exercise. This can then be applied to your everyday life, whether it’s at work, at home, walking, running, cycling or doing any other sort of physical activity.
In my opinion, learning body awareness in Pilates is half the battle. Once you are conscious of how your body moves and aligns itself, it is then possible to improve your posture and develop core strength.
Along with teaching good body awareness, Pilates is known for performing exercises in a slow and controlled manner in order to improve technique and engage smaller, stabilising muscles in the body. By slowing each movement down, you are able to concentrate on the movement and ensure your technique is spot on! It may seem slow and boring to some, but give it time and commitment and you will realise the difference Pilates can make to your body (and back!).
2. Pilates Strengthens the muscles that surround your back
Pilates consists of exercises that target the smaller stabilising muscles in the glutes, abdominals and back. These muscles act as stabilisers for your lower back which can reduce your pain and help to protect your back from further injury.
Here are 3 exercises that you can do for each:
Glutes: Clamshell Exercise
Lie on your side with your knees bent and your feet together. Open your top knee without moving your hip and then lower back down.
Reps/sets: 12 reps on each side/2 sets
Abdominals: Dead Bug Exercise
Slowly lower one leg down while simultaneously lowering the opposite arm back behind you.
Reps/sets: 12 reps on each side/2 sets
Back: Back Extension Exercise
Lift your chest, head and shoulders and arms off the ground and then lift and lower your arms, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
Reps/sets: 12 reps/2 sets
3. Pilates stretches the muscles that surround your back
Pilates recognises the need to stretch out certain muscles that contribute to lower back pain and poor posture. By stretching out these muscles, you can help to reduce the strain on your back.
Here are 3 stretches that you can do to help with lower back pain:
Hip flexor stretch
Lower back stretch
Standing doorway stretch
In my experience, clients who have been suffering from back pain have begun to notice relief from their symptoms after only a couple of weeks of consistent Pilates (2-3 classes per week).
When the Pilates method to back pain is applied, it makes sense that for some individuals, back pain will ease, if not, go away entirely. Of course, this is on a case by case basis and does not take into account specific injuries i.e. certain disk injuries or other lifestyle factors.
The good news? In my 5 years of teaching Pilates, a HUGE percentage of my clients who originally presented with lower back pain have gained huge relief after just a few months of consistent Pilates. So if you have back pain, get yourself to a Pilates class or if you can’t, find an online Pilates program so that you can work around your own schedule!
If you are not sure whether Pilates is right for you, I highly recommend speaking to a health professional about a treatment plan specific to you.
Alex is a Registered Nurse, qualified Pilates Instructor, and owner of Duo Pilates. She has a passion for educating and inspiring people to use movement to improve their lives. She believes that in order to train our body in the right way, we first need to train the mind to acquire body awareness.